Adolescent male athletes are less likely to abuse the girls they date if their coaches tell them they should respect women, according to an evaluation conducted by researchers led by Elizabeth Miller, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Dr. Miller's team studied more than 2,000 male athletes at 16 high schools in California between October 2009 and October 2011 to determine the effectiveness of Coaching Boys into Men, a program begun in 2005 to encourage coaches to utilize their position as authority figures to reduce violence against women.
Eight schools in the Sacramento area got the program, eight others served as a control group, Dr. Miller said.
Developed by the Futures Without Violence foundation in collaboration with Dr. Miller, CBIM consists of a "playbook" and a card series that coaches can use to deliver a dozen 10- to 15-minute talks to be delivered once a week during the sports season. The talks emphasize how to build healthy relationships with the girls they date and how to intervene when they see abusive behaviors among their peers.
About a third of adolescent girls suffer physical, verbal or emotional abuse from a dating partner, according to a 2008 study. That far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. A 2001 study found about 20 percent of high school girls were physically or sexually abused, with African-American and Hispanic girls at greater risk.
Male athletes who completed the CBIM program were somewhat less likely to commit abuse themselves and significantly less likely to tolerate abusive behaviors by their peers, Dr. Miller and her colleagues had found in an earlier study.
The program is "most effective at giving young men the skills to speak up when they see disrespectful and harmful behaviors, and in so doing, it causes them to reflect on their own behavior," Dr. Miller said.
Football and basketball players were more likely to have "gender inequitable" attitudes -- considered negative toward women -- than were athletes in other sports, the researchers found. They did not differentiate among the athletes by race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.
"In studying adolescent violence, we see less difference than by the social norms of adolescents," Dr. Miller said. "These attitudes cut across race and ethnicity."
The primary purpose of the follow-up study, published last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, was to determine if attitudes and behavior changed from the end of one sports season to the beginning of the next.
Athletes reported any incident of physical, sexual or emotional abuse in the most recent three months. Incidents of violence against women increased significantly -- from 14 percent at the beginning to 20 percent at the 12-month follow-up -- among the male athletes in the group that did not receive the CBIM training. At the follow-up point, the rate of abuse was essentially unchanged for boys who had had the CBIM program, the researchers found.
In addition, other positive effects of the program noted at the end of the season, such as more intentions to intervene, recognition of abusive behaviors and positive bystander behavior, did not last at the 12-month mark. Once they left the team atmosphere, the CBIM boys were "significantly less likely" than they had been at the end of the season when they all were together to "step up and say something" if they saw their peers committing abuse, Dr. Miller said.
The study noted that because some athletes dropped out of the study, those who remained may have more positive social attitudes, giving the study what is called selection bias in that direction.
CBIM is an effective tool in reducing date violence, but it would be even more effective if a way can be found to maintain in the off-season the peer pressure to respect women the program develops by the end of the season, Dr. Miller said.
Three local organizations -- the Center for Victims in McKeesport, Pittsburgh Action against Rape, and Crisis Center North -- have endorsed the Coaching Boys into Men program, she said. Two area school districts -- Gateway and Woodland Hills -- plan to implement it next year.
For more on Coaching Boys into Men: http://coachescorner.org.
Jack Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1476.